Growing Demand for Rice sees Africa turn to Asian Expertise

Rice growing experts from Africa and Asia met in Tanzania to share experience and knowledge in a bid to boost productivity and production in Africa.

Demand for rice consumption is growing in Africa, particularly in urban areas, and the level of domestic production is not keeping pace with the growth.

To address this gap, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) facilitated an experiance and knowledge sharing workshop between African experts and their couterparts from Vietnam and Thailand – fifth and sixth biggest rice producing nations in the world, respectively.

FAO officials expect the interactions to contribution to Africa’s push to transform its agrifood system.

“It is important that we need to redouble efforts in sharing knowledge and experiences on better production but also for better trade in rice, using opportunities such as the African Continental Free Trade Area,” said Abebe Haile-Gabriel, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa at the event.

Abebe stressed that there is no short cut to achieving “some level of respectable self-sufficiency other than enhancing productivity, which at the moment is at a very low level.”

“By sharing knowledge and experiences on best practices, we are contributing to a more sustainable agrifood system transformation in Africa,” he emphasized.

Increasing rice yields in Africa

Africa’s top rice-producing countries include Nigeria, Tanzania, Madagascar, Liberia, Uganda, Mali, Sierra Leone, Cote d’ Ivoire, Ghana, Gambia, Benin, and Cameroon.

But more than half of all African countries are net rice importers, according to the FAO.

African rice consumption is projected to reach 34.9 million tonnes of milled rice by 2025.

If current trends continue, the UN Agency says African rice production will meet only two-thirds of demand and more than 12 million tonnes of rice will need to be imported each year, at an annual cost of more than 5 billion US dollars.

While imports from Asia will likely address the gap, some African countries have made significant strides in increasing their rice production driven largely by political will and commitment to put in place the right policies, strategies, and institutional mechanisms.

In Tanzania, for example, rice production has increased in recent years because of coordinated efforts by the Government and other stakeholders, including FAO, which has made rice the second most important food crop after maize.

Despite progress, productivity remains low, with an average yield of one to three tonnes per hectare which is less than half of the average yield achieved in major rice producing countries such as China.

Reasons for low productivity include climate change, insufficient application of new technologies, the use of low-yielding varieties, low levels of private sector involvement in the rice value chain, insufficient irrigation infrastructure and low levels of youth involvement in agriculture.

Lessons from Asia

FAO officials noted that valuable lessons were shared at the workshop from the Asian rice value chain.

The lessons include price and trade policies, research and extension, agricultural education, seeds systems development, private sector development and technical know-how in plant production, protection, harvesting, processing and trade.

“We value the experience of some Asian countries that have succeeded to boost productivity in rice farming through various strategies including rice intensification systems,” said Nyasebwa Chimagu, the Director of Crops Development in Agriculture Ministry of Tanzania.

Through South-South Cooperation, FAO Africa experts also say sustainable agricultural production and profitability can be increased, and new technologies and innovations can be introduced to drive progress through the cooperation.

Featured Image Caption: A farmer works in a rice field in Bagré, Burkina Faso. [ Photo © FAO/Alessandra Benedetti]

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